Cowboy... Lawyer... Paramedic... Legend
Written By: Jane E. Dinsmore, B.S., LP, NRP, FP-C, CCP-C
March 31, 2020
Some people are born and destined for “greatness”. Most of us are born and hope to become “great” but never seem to achieve it. Others are born into humble existence and strive quietly to help others to be great… to give others the tools they need to achieve “greatness”. The latter describes Gene Gandy. All too often, we forget to pass on to our younger EMS generations who people like Gene are and were and how much their actions have impacted what they are doing today out there in the streets. I wanted to write this article and share with you some of the history of this one Texas EMS Legend, this man who was a tremendous mover and developer of what we know of as EMS in Texas and inspired “greatness” in all of us whether we knew him or not.
William Eugene (Gene) Gandy was born on March 20th, 1938 to a family of farmers and ranchers. He grew up as a cowboy, who loved the simplicity of that life and only gave it up entirely when he got too old to do it anymore.
Before his death on February 5th, 2020, he wrote to me about his life before becoming a Paramedic, Educator, and author.
"Growing up during WW II I have vivid memories of things that happened in the war.
I remember Pearl Harbor quite well.
Of course, there was no TV in those days so everybody was glued to the radio. Radios were huge cabinets full of vacuum tubes and large speakers. They were usually multi-band and had short wave frequencies that we would listen to. We could hear the BBC and, if you knew the right frequency, German propaganda or Tokyo Rose, the Japanese propaganda queen.
I remember D Day and VJ Day and the day Roosevelt died. These were enormously engaging events where the whole town would converge on the square behind the post office where they would have amplifiers and loudspeakers set up so that we could hear the news.”
“Life was interesting in those times. You could not get many items of food, clothing, and mechanical items because everything was dedicated to the war effort. Food was rationed. Clothing was rationed, especially leather. They came out with plastic for shoes. Gasoline was rationed. There were no new tires to buy so you patched the old ones, which had inner tubes, of course. We all had vegetable gardens. I never felt that we were missing anything. We ate well. We had a cow and made our own buttermilk and butter, a lot of which I churned, and we had chickens and guineas. If you wanted a turkey, the turkey farm was just across town. The women canned veggies and fruit and made bread, and we never went hungry.”
“There was a prisoner of war camp in Paris, TX, at Camp Maxey, and there were several thousand German prisoners there. We would drive down there (25 miles) on Sundays to watch them play soccer, a game we had never heard of. They wore short pants, which we thought was hilarious. Many of those prisoners stayed there after the war and become good citizens of the good old USA.”
“Compared to today, life was incredibly slow and relaxed. Living in a little town was wonderful. It gave me so much richness in my life.”
I found this story fascinating because most of our grandparents and great-grandparents who held similar stories dear to their hearts are gone now, their history gone with them.
In college, Gene studied music and played the piano professionally in groups and big bands. He planned to become a High School Band Director but decided he wanted more. After being drafted into the Army and later being honorably discharged, he enrolled in Law School at the University of Denver. His first job as a lawyer was as an Assistant United States Attorney, where he tried bank robberies, counterfeiting cases and other large crimes. He left there to practice general law but before long, Central America and scuba diving called for him, so he moved to Central America for a while and opened up a scuba diving business with an ex-Navy Seal and some other folks in Belize, which was then called British Honduras. However, when his mother became ill with cancer, he moved back to Honey Grove, Texas to go back to law and play cowboy to help his family. During this period, he became interested in EMS and became an EMT. He also stepped up to the District Attorney’s position in Fannin County and played EMT with the volunteer service on weekends.
Contemporary Jazz Quintet 1959 - Gene Gandy, Toby Gyinn, Bob Thomas, Tom Wirtel, Joe Giardinelli
Gene fell in love with EMS in the 1970’s and was involved in the NAEMT and helped with writing the initial rules and regulations for EMS in Texas, and that is where he met Gene Weatherall. (Mr. Weatherall would become a state Chief of the Texas Bureau of Emergency Management, which later became the Texas Department of Health EMS Bureau of EMS and now is the Texas State Department of Health Services EMS and Trauma Systems Division). These gentlemen, and many other people, were integral in creating the backbone of what we know of as EMS in Texas today. He also attended Paramedic school at Texarkana College under Director Lynn Vickers, graduating in 1981.
He continued to practice law but was basically bored with it and wanted to pursue his career in EMS. He was teaching at Paris Junior College. He wrote to me,
“So one day I'm sitting at my desk talking to Weatherall and he said, "I know what you need to do. You need to go work offshore." I asked him some questions and said I might be interested. Well, in two days I was in Beaumont learning how to be a rig medic and a helicopter medic for the oil and gas industry. Dr. Mike Stafford was our medical director, and he was gung- ho about medics learning to do advanced things, so I learned to suture, to do chest tubes, pericardiocentesis, minor surgeries for things like minor abscesses, boils, cysts, and to treat all sorts of illnesses. I had 5 or 6 antibiotics at my disposal and all sorts of other things to do to keep employees off of worker's comp and on the rig. I did a lot of ear war removal and removal of foreign bodies in the eye. It was a great job because it gave me the time off to dive in Cozumel or play cowboy in Honey Grove. All this time I was also closely involved in what was then Texas Department of Health EMS Division, still working on things like skill definitions and checklists, and so forth. Jim Arnold was then the head of the Tyler Office, and he called me one day and said that TJC (Tyler Junior College) was looking for somebody to start a Paramedic degree program, and he and TDH wanted me to apply. I thought it over and applied. Little did I know that it was a done deal at that time, because TJC had asked TDH how to do this and Jim Arnold had told them to hire me. So they did, and I went to work on August 1, 1988. I had an office with no desk, phone, or furniture. Thirty days later we had $37,000 worth of equipment in a classroom, and I had a makeshift office. We were off and running.”
That program is still in existence today, over thirty years later.
Gene also continued to be involved at the state level in developing rules and regulations. One of those committees prior to the current GETAC was TEMSAC (the Texas EMS Advisory Council). TEMSAC was charged with developing a comprehensive state EMS plan. He served on that committee until it met the “sunset” date established by the state Legislature.
It was during this period that Gene convinced me to get involved in the politics of EMS. I remember after the sunset of TEMSAC and GETAC (the Governor’s EMS and Trauma Advisory Council) was formed, they established long standing committees, one of which was the Education Committee. Gene wrote my name on a piece of paper and dropped it into the “hat” for those who were interested in serving. I laughed and told him he was a “funny guy”. There were MANY names in that “hat”. I never dreamed I would be chosen. But I was, and I served for several years.
Gene cared deeply for EMS and was a devout legal consultant for many EMS providers and agencies over the years, using his legal eagle eyes to review cases, write opinions and even testify if needed. He played first responder south of Tyler for what used to be known as East Texas EMS (now the UT Health East Texas EMS). He absolutely glowed after getting the opportunity to help on scenes with them back in the 1990’s. Later, after leaving TJC, he was hired by me to be a Lead Paramedic for Shackelford County EMS up in Albany, Texas. He was in his 60’s then and could still run circles around every other Paramedic I know. (In fact, even up to his death, I think he still knew more than most of us even after forgetting so much due to age and illness.)
Over the years, Gene continued to guide us by writing and co-writing articles in EMS magazines and books. In EMSWorld, he wrote the articles, “In a Prolonged Asthma Attack, Start at the End”, “Taking the Fear out of a Surgical Cricothyrotomy”, “Book Review, Legal Considerations for Tactical Medical Responders”, “More Oxygen Can’t Hurt, Can It”, and others. He has co-written articles for various publications with well know educators, speakers and authors such as Dr. Bryan Bledsoe and Kelly Grayson, NRP, CCEMT-P.
Gene also routinely socialized online and off with many other “movers and shakers” in EMS and related fields. He was well-known for his insightful and meaningful posts in many blogs and discussion boards online with high-ranking members of emergency care. Over the last several years, he became co-writer and primary editor for PERCOMOnline, Inc. and was still teaching in chat rooms, grading papers and editing up until he entered hospice after losing his 2-year battle with cancer.
Gene, PJ Geraghty (VP, Clinical Services, Donor Network of Arizona), Larry Levi (MD/CEO, MedFlight Air Ambulance)
Many of you reading this article may not realize how much Mr. Gandy had an effect and impact on the care you deliver to your patients today. But because of him and other Legends just like him (some gone, some still with us), we provide high quality patient care in the prehospital environment in Texas and across the U.S.
Without their tireless energy and unrelenting quests for best practices, reviews of validated research to help guide us to step up our game, and willingness to share knowledge with us to help us be better, I shudder to think where we would be today.
I would like to believe that many of you will continue to carry the spark that was initially generated by these men and women of our past and continue to move us forward to become better and better in the future.